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Bentgate Mountaineering

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Choosing the Right Climbing Skin

Posted by Will Shaw on

Skis, boots, and bindings always get a lot of attention when you’re putting together the perfect alpine touring setup, but don’t forget that you’ll be spending most of your time with the skins on. In this blog we’ll cover different plush materials that are available and what width skin will work best.

There are three basic options when it comes to selecting the plush or part of the skin that grips the snow. They are nylon, nylon/mohair blend, and mohair. These three options let you select a skin material that will grip in steep terrain, shed water in a wet climate, or glide through flats and low angle climbs depending on exactly what you’re looking for.

Nylon skins are a popular choice for a first touring kit because they offer the best grip of all the options and are often the least expensive choice. The long coarse fibers hold well on steep or slick skin tracks. Nylon also repels water better than mohair, so in a wet climate like the Pacific Northwest they are a good option. Down sides to full nylon skins are bulk, weight, and glide. Nylon skins are usually thicker and a little heavier than other options, so they’re not for someone who is counting grams. Nylon also does not glide as well through low angle terrain, so if you plan on doing lots of flat approaches consider a blend or mohair skin.

Pure mohair skins are popular for randonee racing but are becoming less popular among recreational skiers. Mohair provides the most possible glide from a skin but sacrifices grip, so we only recommend a pure mohair skin to experienced backcountry users. Mohair is the go-to material for the weight conscious, as it is the lightest and most compact option, but the tradeoff for weight is durability. Some mohair skins will give you seasons of use, but be prepared to go through some of the lightest options in a winter of regular use or less.

Nylon/mohair blends do exactly what you would expect. They combine the benefits of the two materials and fit the needs of a majority of users. Some companies have their own blends, but 70% mohair 30% nylon is standard. Modern nylon/mohair skins give almost as much glide as a pure mohair skin without sacrificing much of the grip associated with nylon. Blended skins are only a little heavier and bulkier than mohair and fall between mohair and nylon as far as price. Adding the 30% +or- nylon to the plush makes these skins durable and with proper care they will last for several seasons.

After deciding on what material, it’s time to decide what size skin will be best for your skis and your intended use. Finding the correct length is pretty straight forward because there is only one length measurement on a ski, but for width you should consider the tip, tail, and waste dimensions of your skis.

Edge to edge coverage across your entire ski is one option. This will give you the most possible grip for the plush that you are using. To cover the entire ski choose a skin that is as wide or wider than the widest dimension on your ski (usually the tip). Complete coverage ensures the best grip when the ski is on edge in a scenario where you are traversing hardpack, but it does have some downsides. Trimming to the width of the tip will add a little weight to your kit, but what’s more noticeable is the bulk of a wider skin. Having the edge of the skin so close to the edge of the ski can expose the glue if the skin is not applied precisely, and over the course of a day snow can work its way down the skin and render the glue useless until it is dried.

Choosing a width that is wide enough to cover the tail of the ski is a very practical option that provides nearly all of the grip of the above method but saves a little weight and bulk, and can save some money by using a narrower skin. Almost all modern skis have rocker at least in the tip, so leaving a cm or two of base exposed on either side of the tip does not lose any traction, because the tip of the ski usually won’t be in contact with the snow. For this method, select a width that is closest to your tail width without being more over 1cm narrower. Trimming the sidecut of the skin will give full contact along the effective edge of the ski, so this option does well traversing hardpack. The exposed base at the tip can improve glide while breaking trail, but the benefit will be minimal without getting creative in how you shape the tip. One last benefit of this style is quick application. The narrower skin at the tip of the ski does not have to be perfect to keep the glue protected.

For a straight skin, just pick a width that is close to your ski’s waist width and trim any excess if necessary. Straight skins are quick to apply and popular on race skis, but we don’t recommend this setup because it leaves a lot of base exposed. The exposed base can make skinning on hardpack difficult if you are not going straight up, because as soon as the ski is turned on edge the skin will lose contact.

With a little thought, you’ll be able to choose the method that works best for you.

NylonMixMohair
DescriptionMaximum grip and durabillity; Rapels water well; Poor glide.Best grip to glide performance;Some weight savings over nylon without sacrificing much durability.Most glide and lightest weight; Popular for racing; sacrifices some grip and only suggested for experienced skinners.
Full CoverageOffers the most possible grip and edge hold while traversing; full coverage means buying a wider skin and a little extra weight.Great for someone who wants the most possible grip and doesn't mind a little extra weight.A good option for beginners who want the most grip with good glide.Full coverage with 100% mohair is a fine setup, but most users looking for a Mohair skin will want a more trim cut to save weight.
Tail CoverageProvides a little extra glide in the tip while providing maximum grip through the tail. The narrower material at the tip makes this cut quick to apply.All the benefits of full coverage nylon but with some weight/bulk savings and a little less expensive.The sweet spot for most. Sacrificing full coverage in the tip keeps bulk down, and the Mix plush is great for most Colorado conditions.A mohiar skin with coverage through the tail is a great setup for an uphill oriented recreational user of moderate to advanced ability.
Straight SkinMostly used on race skis; Fast to apply but does not provide much traction while traversing on hardpack.Not recommended due to poor grip when the ski is on edge. Protects glue by keeping it away from the edge of the ski.Not recommended, but could work for someone looking for a skin that is quick to apply and wants to save on weight and bulk.A straight mohair skin is mostly used for randonee racing. The low grip of mohair combined with the lack of coverage to the edge is not ideal for a recreational backcountry setup.
  • Climbing Skins
  • Backcountry
  • Ski Touring
  • Alpine Touring
  • Skiing

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